Thousands evacuated after chemical truck overturns in Pennsylvania

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A tractor-trailer carrying 32,000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid overturned on a northeastern Pennsylvania highway early Saturday morning, prompting the evacuation of about 5,000 people. The truck, registered to the Honeywell company, flipped over at about 2:40 a.m. after the driver swerved to avoid a deer.

The pressurized acid began to leak after the vehicle flipped over onto its side on Route 33 in Plainfield Township, but Northampton County authorities said Saturday the nobody was injured and the leak was contained by noon.

Residents were evacuated as Hazmat officials were brought in to clean up the site. Inhalation of hydrofluoric acid can be fatal, and low doses can irritate the eyes, nose and respiratory tract.

But Northampton County Administration Director John Conklin said the leak was slow-moving, and not enough of the chemical leaked to create a toxic cloud.

“This will be over real quick,” Conklin told CNN International.

Hundreds of evacuees were taken to the Pen Argyl Area High School in nearby Pen Argyl, but Conklin anticipated they would be able to return to their homes by the end of the day.

Hydrogen fluoride is a hazardous and highly corrosive chemical compound used mostly for industrial purposes. It is also an ingredient in high-octane gasoline, refrigerants and light bulbs.

The driver of the truck, Raymond Leblanc, 54, of Harrow, Ontario, was treated at Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg for minor injuries and released Saturday. A passenger, Joseph Dault, 51, of Ontario, was not hurt.